Smart Devices Likely to Cause Internet Congestion

John Lister's picture

One of the key figures in the creation of the Internet has warned that adding billions of gadgets with online connections could mean a slower Internet for many users. Vint Cerf said users need to enable a newer Internet addressing system to get the best results.

Cerf is sometimes referred to as one of the "fathers of the Internet." He played a key role in the creation of ARPANET, the military network that established many of the technologies that were later at the heart of the Internet.

Cerf also helped design the basic system by which Internet data is broken into small pieces, routed across multiple computer connections around the world for maximum efficiency, then reassembled at its destination. This method of transporting the data across the Internet is best known as the TCP/IP protocol.

Cerf now works for Google as "chief Internet evangelist," and spoke this week at a meeting of the National Press Club. Here he spoke about the growing demand for IP addresses, which identify a specific Internet-connected device such as a computer or modem.

Not Enough Internet Addresses To Go Round

When Cerf helped create the IP address system (known today as IPv4), he assumed that the numbering system, which allowed for 4.3 billion different addresses, would be more than sufficient. That's proven incorrect, however, with the recent explosion in the number of computers, mobile devices and other gadgets such as alarm systems, fitness trackers and 'smart' heating and lighting systems - all of which require or use an Internet connection in order to function. (Source

The IPv4 address shortage problem has been addressed through a new system known as IPv6, which allows for 340 billion billion billion billion different addresses, otherwise known as 3.4×10^38 in scientific notation. The problem is that IPv6 isn't compatible with the more common IPv4 system, though the IP addresses can be mapped and translated to be backwards compatible using specialized hardware, or software / service.

Internet Providers Slow To Make Change

Only around 14.5 percent of web users have browsers that can use IPv6 and, in a chicken and egg situation, many websites aren't set up to support it. Cerf warns that this could mean many users find it slower to access online content, particularly with audio and media files, because their computers will need to use the Internet equivalent of a translation service. It's the translation service which will take time to access and compute, as every IPv6 to IPv4 and IPv4 to IPv6 request will need to be looked up, translated, and then redirected to the appropriate address. (Source:

The problem is that while IPv6 can be enabled in Windows (and is available by default in Windows 7 and later), it needs to also be translated and supported by Internet providers. Most providers have yet to do so, even though every possible IPv4-based address is either in use or has already been allocated to a particular region of the world and is likely to be in use within a few years. Once that happens, providers will have to use IPv6 if they are to take on new customers and/or support existing websites and services with IPv6.

What's Your Opinion?

Were you aware of the difference between IPv4 and IPv6? Is support for IPv6 something that concerns you? Do you trust Internet providers to start supporting the system when they realize it's the only way to get new customers, or should they be forced to upgrade their technology right away?

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georgegrimes's picture

I've known about the issue for years and we've used Network Address Translation (NAT) as a work-around for longer that anyone originally assumed it would work. It is far past time when internet providers should be supporting IPV6. Yes, it does cost to upgrade the system. But when their performance is so bad that they lose all their customers that cost will seem small!

guitardogg's picture

This, like so many other tech advances, are slowed down by the #$%^& accountants! They are focused on short term results, and not at all interested in the future. They no longer listen to the innovators, technical experts, etc. Tell them implementing IPV6 will cause a 20% decrease in profit for a year or two, but will yield 10 fold profit from the 3rd year on, and they will still shoot it down. Short term thinking, technologies worst enemy!!

joela44's picture

I have been aware of this since probably 2009 or 2010. I can't fathom why it isn't done by now. Even 5 or 6 years ago most people had a smartphone, then added a tablet. Most business people had a Blackberry, I did, I was loathe to give it up for a touchscreen, but I saw the wave coming and stepped out of the way. IT was inevitable then that this would happen. The advent of iPad and tablets and smart home devices and internet alarm systems, and for crying out loud connected REFRIGERATORS! How much longer CAN they delay? They'd better get moving is all I can say. I'm far too old to learn what to do to profit from it but some young man or woman must certainly be at least thinking about it! At least I hope so!

infopackets.com_4228's picture

Have a look at this assignment of public IP addresses.
Note how entire class-A subnets are assigned to single corporations. Do GE or Ford really need 16 million addresses each? No.
The US DoD has 12 such subnets. Do they need 201 million addresses? No.

Had the addresses been allocated better, 4.3 billion would be roughly sufficient for today's demand.